WASHINGTON — Scorecards were savaged. Heads were spinning. Benches and bullpens were dwindling.

And that was all well before Clayton Kershaw talked his way into the ninth inning of the most backward, brilliant, incredible, pulsating, unusual and exhausting game the Los Angeles Dodgers may have ever created.

“No, no; never in my wildest dreams,” Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said—champagne splashing, Chicago Cubs awaiting—when asked whether he’s ever seen anything like it.

It was Los Angeles 4, Washington 3, Conventional Baseball 0 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series: a game that went off the rails by, oh, the third inning and dared go where few other postseason games have gone by the ninth.

“This piece. That piece. Whatever,” Honeycutt said. “You talk about it, you think Rich [Hill] is going to go through the lineup twice and then he’s going to be finished.”

And then the Dodgers presumably had an entire binder full of matchup scenarios, except…

“It just didn’t happen that way,” explained Honeycutt, who still wasn’t quite sure what hit him.

The Dodgers used one of their key late-inning setup men, Joe Blanton, in the third inning.

They called their closer, Kenley Jansen, into a five-alarm fire in the seventh inning, three batters in, one runner on, nobody out.

They pulled Kershaw out of their hat three batters into the ninth inning to get the final two outs. Kershaw had not pitched in relief since 2009, had never before obtained a major league save and had just thrown 110 high-stress pitches 48 hours earlier to push this thing back to Washington and Game 5.

“Crazy,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “It was crazy. I didn’t even know Kersh was down there in the bullpen warming up until Kenley walked a guy in the ninth, and I looked up and saw his name on the scoreboard.

“I can’t even digest what happened. It was an unbelievable game all the way through.”

The artist who kept drawing and redrawing all of this in the dugout was a rookie manager who couldn’t even get an interview with the lowly San Diego Padres last winter before the enlightened Dodgers opened their doors.

Yeah, same guy who, seven hours earlier on this unforgettable night, declared that Kershaw was “absolutely not” available for Game 5, not even for one out.

Holding a half-empty bottle of champagne, his uniform sopping wet and wearing the grin of a cat burglar in the clear when it was over, manager Dave Roberts now could be called either a fibber or a trendsetter.

Given his magic touch on this night, there isn’t much question as to which is the correct answer. Using his best reliever in the highest leverage spot of a win-or-go-home game…imagine that. What guts, what onions, what…smarts.

“That was the most creative inning I’ve ever seen,” Tim Hyers, the Dodgers’ assistant hitting coach, told Roberts of, well, hell, pick an inning, while delivering a heartfelt hug. “It was a pleasure to watch you work.”

Talk about turning convention on its ear: Hill, the Dodgers starter, threw a total of 55 pitches. Jansen, their traditional closer, threw 51.

By the end of the seventh inning, Roberts had burned through every single one of his six bench players, save one: Yasiel Puig.

Oh yeah, that seventh. That will be carefully placed into a time capsule from 2016 in Los Angeles, right there beside Vin Scully’s final words and the Nationals’ final rites. That’s when, during this pinch-hitting spree, the Dodgers popped for four runs to erase a 1-0 deficit.

Max Scherzer was sailing, buoyed by a run in the second inning. But he had little margin for error, and that completely blew apart when Joc Pederson deposited Scherzer’s first pitch in the top of the seventh over the left field wall for an opposite-field, game-tying home run.

Scherzer’s wall of dominance now cracked, all of manager Dusty Baker’s horses and all of Dusty’s relievers couldn’t put things back together again. During one stretch in the seventh and eighth innings, Baker used seven different pitchers during a span of 11 Dodgers hitters.

No wonder the blasted, flawed and yet beautiful inning took 66 minutes to complete. With the Dodgers ahead 4-1, Los Angeles reliever Grant Dayton started the bottom of the seventh by walking light-hitting Danny Espinosa on four pitches and then surrendering a stunning pinch-hit home run to Chris Heisey.

Their lead reduced to 4-3—the Nationals lineup now rolled over to the top of the order—and Roberts was not about to wait. Here came Jansen with nine outs standing between Los Angeles and a date with the Cubs beginning Saturday night in Chicago.

Roberts had talked with Jansen before the game, in the clubhouse, and told him, “Be ready. I may need you in the seventh tonight.”

Jansen was all ears and all in.

“I’ve never done that in my whole career,” Jansen, 29, a converted catcher who once caught Kershaw back in rookie ball in the Dodgers’ organization, said proudly. “I never went three innings in a game and 51 pitches.”

He admitted, once his pitch count zoomed up toward 40, “it’s a different feeling. You feel a little tired. My whole body was fatigued. But I’m not gonna quit.”

Even having been told to be ready, things moved quickly. Once Heisey’s ball sailed over the fence and the next batter, Clint Robinson, drilled a single to put the tying run on base, Jansen entered with a purpose: “Try to stop the bleeding,” he said.

He got Trea Turner to fly to right, watched Bryce Harper serve a single the other way into left field and then struck out Jayson Werth for a second out. But Harper had stolen second, and the Dodgers elected to intentionally walk Washington’s hottest hitter, Daniel Murphy. Jansen then fanned Anthony Rendon to end the inning.

When Jansen trotted out for the eighth, the Dodgers clinging to a 4-3 lead and six outs from booking their trip to Wrigley Field, it was clear this would be a race to the finish line.

Everyone—from the Dodgers dugout to the 49,936 now in agony in Nationals Park to a national television audience and on Twitter—was riveted by Jansen’s workload.

“Sure, I mean, jeez, we’re in uncharted territory here for lots of guys,” Honeycutt said.

But one person paying close attention was far, far more important than everyone else combined.

In the dugout, as soon as Jansen headed for the mound to start the eighth, Kershaw approached Honeycutt.

“Are you expecting Kenley to go all three innings?” Kershaw asked.

“Well, that’s what we’re shooting for,” Honeycutt replied.

The ace left-hander told Honeycutt he could pitch if needed.

“No, no, no, no,” Honeycutt answered.

By the time the final “no” hung in the air, Kershaw was long gone, having scooted further down the dugout to approach the manager.

“Are you expecting Kenley to go all three innings?” Kershaw wanted to know.

Yes, Roberts answered, that’s the hope.

I can pitch, Kershaw said.

“No,” Honeycutt saw Roberts tell him.

“Next thing I knew, he had his cleats on and was heading for the bullpen,” Honeycutt said.

Of all the dozens and dozens of scenarios the Dodgers game-planned for during meetings leading up to Game 5 involving Roberts, President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and any number of others, there was one scenario that never came up.

“It wasn’t even ‘No way, no chance,'” Friedman said. “We didn’t even talk about it.”

Kershaw, though, was insistent. So Roberts had a quick talk with the training staff, got clearance and told Kershaw to go ahead and get loose.

The new, on-the-fly plan: If Jansen couldn’t get a 1-2-3 inning, Kershaw would come in to face the fourth hitter of the inning—the uber-hot, left-handed-swinging Murphy.

In the tunnel behind the Dodgers dugout as they hit in the top of the ninth, Jansen looked up at a television, saw Kershaw warming in the bullpen and was stunned.

“I thought I was dreaming out there,” Jansen said, adding “Kershaw gave me an extra boost of adrenalin going out there in the ninth.”

How far-fetched was all of this when Kershaw began his public walk from the dugout to the Dodgers bullpen behind the left field fence just before the ninth inning started?

“I thought it was a decoy,” Friedman said. “But knowing Kersh, I knew it wasn’t.”

And so it was, 12:35 a.m. ET when Roberts summoned Kershaw with one out, the Dodgers clinging to a 4-3 lead and Nationals on the bases at first and second.

“I gave everything I’ve got,” Jansen said. Toward the end, he admitted, he was so tired that it felt like the strike zone “was shrinking.”

Kershaw did what few of his teammates this year (Murphy was hitting .462/.529/.462 in the first four games of this series) and few Cubs did last year (he hit .529/.556/1.294 in the NLCS) were able to do: He induced Murphy to pop harmlessly to second base.

Then, in a complete mismatch, Kershaw fanned poor Wilmer Difo, who was batting for the pitcher and was the last man left on Baker’s bench.

The way Kershaw reasoned it, Thursday was his normal day to throw a session in the bullpen after his start two days earlier, anyway, so why wouldn’t he just skip that in case he was needed in the game?

“You know, at the end of the day, if we don’t win that game, we’re going home anyway, so what does it matter?” Kershaw said. “As far as an easy sell or not an easy sell, I think Doc was initially hesitant, for sure. But I don’t know, medium sell I guess.”

Kershaw sure didn’t need to sell himself to his teammates, but nevertheless, sell he did. As if their opinion of him could go any higher. When someone started to ask Honeycutt whether this would mitigate some of the ace’s previous postseason struggles, the pitching coach warned, “Don’t even go there.”

“He’s had a couple of [postseason] innings that have gone haywire,” Honeycutt said. “That’s what happens. He’s still the best. You want him out there no matter what.”

This one, as Turner said, is going to take a while to digest.

“The significance of this game is kind of lost on me in the moment,” Friedman said. “It was as intense of a game as I’ve ever been a part of.”

And the levers were pulled, expertly, by a rookie manager who looked for all the world like a guy who has been doing this for years.

“You have a plan, but things just changed in a heartbeat, really,” Honeycutt said. “[Roberts] has a great intuition for this. He [intentionally] walked Murphy in the third and boom. He wants Blanton, boom.

“Each piece, he’s able to piece it together.”

Once it was whole, it was a sight to behold. If you could see it through all of the scribbling, scratching out and rewriting on your scorecard.

Afterward, Roberts deflected the praise to his players and coaches, and he spoke of his collaboration with the front office, the way it tries to stay “forward-thinking” and “open-minded.”

Because of that, the Dodgers have much to look forward to over the next 10 days or so with the Cubs.

“I’d be interested to see, you know, they won the war, but to see the effects of Jansen and Kershaw when they get to Chicago,” Baker, the Nationals manager, said.

That will be a different story for a different day and, yes, you can bet Baker will have company in watching how the rest of this October unfolds for the Dodgers.

But as they threw convention to the wind on a chilly, windy evening in the nation’s capital, the Dodgers knew one thing for sure: There are different ways of doing things, and they’ll be damned if they’re going to continue doing them just because that’s the way those things have always been done.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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